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Know Your Rights: Students & LGBTQ Rights at School

You have rights as a student in public school. If your rights are being violated by teachers, principals, or other students, please contact the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Rights of Transgender, Genderqueer, & Gender-Nonconforming Students

You have the right to express your gender, and it is unlawful for your peers or teachers to harass or treat you differently because of your gender. No matter what sex you were assigned at birth, you have the right to cut your hair and wear your clothes in a way that matches your gender identity. If you have to wear a drape or tuxedo for your senior portrait, you have the right to wear whichever matches your gender identity. You have the right to be called by the gender pronouns that you specify. You also have the right to play on the sports team that matches your gender identity. You have the right to use the restroom and locker room that match your gender identity.

Right To Be Free from Religious-based Discrimination

You have the right to be free from discrimination and harassment regardless of the religious views of your peers, teachers, or community. No student or teacher has the right to harass you on the basis of your sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression just because they hold certain religious views.

“Don’t Say Gay” or “No Promo Homo” Laws Are Invalid

Laws that prohibit teachers from discussing sexual orientations other than heterosexual may be susceptible to legal challenge. Laws or policies portraying LGBTQ people negatively, such as in a health class, may also be subject to challenge.

Bullying, Harassment, & Discrimination Are Unlawful

If anyone, even a teacher, is harassing you at school, the most important thing you can do is tell someone in charge—like your principal, vice principal, or superintendent. Keep a journal that includes details of what happened, when it happened, who said what to whom, whether you told anyone, and whether the school did anything to make it stop. If you tell someone in charge, but they don’t do anything, contact us.

Know Your Rights Regarding School Dress Codes

The First Amendment allows students to express themselves at school. School officials can restrict your freedom of expression only in certain circumstances. For example, you can wear a T-shirt or accessory expressing your pride or support for LGBTQ people, but you may not be allowed to wear something with a curse word on it. If your school’s dress code allows students to wear T-shirts with slogans, it is unlawful for your school to ask you to take off your shirt just because it endorses gay pride. You also have the right to wear clothes that match your gender identity.

You Have the Right To Form Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) or Gender & Sexuality Alliances

These organizations are student-led groups that provide a safe, supportive environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning youth and their allies. If your public school permits other student clubs, then it should allow you to form and publicize a GSA.

Remember: You have to comply with the rules that your school sets up for clubs as long as the rules apply equally to all groups.

You Have the Right To Attend Proms, Field Trips, & Dances

You have the right to take a same-gender date to prom or school dances as long as your date satisfies all the same rules that apply to different-gender dates.

Conversion “Therapy” Is Harmful & Discredited by Mental Health Professionals

Conversion therapists say they can change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. This is a lie. Conversion therapy does not work and can cause serious, lasting harm. If a counselor or other staff member at your school recommends conversion therapy to you or another student, please contact us.

Your Rights in Foster Care

In foster care, you have the right to safety, expression, and freedom. You have the right to be safe from discrimination, harassment, name-calling, violence, and abuse no matter who you are. You have the right to express your gender even if it is different from how boys and girls usually dress or act. You have the right to be free from conversion therapy or church services that say negative things about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

If you experience a violation of these rights, tell someone with authority. Social workers, foster parents, teachers, and administrators are all required to protect you from physical, emotional, and sexual abuse whether it occurs in your foster home, at school, or somewhere else.

If you tell someone and nothing happens, contact the Southern Poverty Law Center by phone or email.

Trans Rights at School

You have the right…

  • To be who you are, whether you identify as binary, nonbinary, genderfluid, agender, bigender, or another gender.
  • To use the restroom or locker room that matches your gender identity as opposed to a gender-neutral restroom in the nurse’s office or staff area.
  • To play on a sports team that matches your gender identity.
  • To express your gender with your clothing, hair, jewelry, voice, and mannerisms, even if some or all of those things don’t match the sex you were assigned at birth.

Your school has the duty…

  • To respect your identity and refrain from discriminating against you because you’re trans.
  • To reasonably respond to harassment, including when peers or teachers misgender you or intentionally use your deadname to bother you.
  • To refer to you by your chosen name and gender pronouns.

If your rights are being violated…

  • Tell a teacher, guidance counselor, or principal, even if it doesn’t seem like a big deal to you.
  • Write down the following and save it:
    • Detailed description of the incident, including the date it happened, who was involved, and where it took place;
    • Date you reported every incident;
    • Name of the adult you told; and
    • Action that the adult said would be taken.
  • If your school fails to address the problem, contact the SPLC.